February 25th, 2010 19:38 EST
Robert Paul Reyes Interviews Cirque Du Soleil Star Cowboy Will Roberts
SOP Reporter Robert Paul Reyes interviews fellow SOP contributor, and world-renowned celebrity, Will Roberts, "America`s Favorite Cowboy Humorist."
Roberts is the country`s preeminent Will Rogers Tribute Artist, he produces an audio podcast and a political humor column "Will Says" in several syndicated newspapers around the world.
Roberts dream has come true after 27 years of blood, sweat and lots of hard work as he is now a cowboy performer in the new Cirque Du Soleil show "Viva Elvis" at City Center.
WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR PORTRAYING WILL ROGERS?
"Back in the 90`s I was working as a Fox Kids TV host (KCBA Fox 35) in the San Jose area of California.. A theater rep company that I had worked with the year before on a production of Singing in the Rain (Cosmo Brown " Donald O Connor role) asked me if I would play Will Rogers in the next season`s big musical "Will Rogers Follies." The long of the short of it was that I found a connection with Will Rogers` life and mine, minus the fame and fortune. Everything I had been saying about making sure you walk in someone else`s shoes before you judge them and communication is what we are missing in our world were the same things that Will Rogers was saying back in the early 1900`s. So, after doing this show and getting such a great response, I decided to give up the farm and devote my life to helping people, in a theatrical way at first.
To do this I started a western entertainment company on line to promote my Will Rogers one-man show. Within 3 years I was traveling about 200 times a year around the world as Will Roberts "Modern day Will Rogers", writing a humorist column for 100 plus online newspapers and doing a TV segment, like I did at FOX and CBS called Will Roberts Weekly Telegram for PBS TV in Oklahoma."
IS THERE A YOUNG PERSON WHO YOU ARE MENTORING?
"No one at this point, however, I am surrounded by a cast of 75 brilliant YOUNGER than me (I am the oldest artist in Viva ELVIS, I am 45) and I try to spread my knowledge of the business and I try to live my life like Will Rogers put it, "Live your life so that if you sold your talking parrot to the town gossip you would not be ashamed . . . something like that."
I try to talk to as many young people I can and now but that is tough unless you`re on Facebook so I now have a Facebook Fan Page."
IS GUN SLINGING AND TRICK ROPING A DYING ART?
"Well now that is a two-part question. Trick roping, YES. In this day and age when we are all too broke to pay attention, and if we cannot access something YESTERDAY, we most likely don`t take the time to learn it. American`s newest slogan is: Mom, apple pie and high speed Internet. "They say you can live two weeks without food, a day or so without water" but take someone`s Internet access away and they won`t last five minutes. Learning how to do skills like roping takes a LOOOOONG time and can be very frustrating. I just don`t see folks wanting to learn how to rope unless they need it in their everyday work. I do get a lot of folks that ask me to show them how to spin a rope, but when I start showing them they find out you don`t just press a button and make it go and they lose interest."
"As for gun spinning and handling, the biggest stumbling block with this art is that it is not real easy to get booked as just a gun spinner. With the way folks think about guns these day, don`t touch them, don`t keep them around kids, don`t point them at folks. I was doing a huge school rally one time in California and a school hired us to come in to do an old west hold up. A day before, me and 5 other cowboys headed to the school, we got a call from our school client and she said the committee met and we have a problem. "When you do the hold up, can you not use guns? Could you use your fingers?" I guess that might give you a feel for a modern day gunslinger`s life."
The six-shooter to me is like a history book, telling the tales of the old west and how the west was won. But I do understand the safety concerns and every one of us cowboys puts safety first.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST BECOME INTERESTED IN GUN SLINGING AND TRICK ROPING?
"Well, that is a question that almost everyone my age and older can answer. When I was a small boy I always wanted to be a cowboy, like Roy Rogers, John Wayne, who didn`t? It was part of our American pop culture. During the 40`s 50`s and 60`s it was cool to be a cowboy. That is why Elvis himself did a few westerns. In Viva ELVIS there is a montage of pictures of Elvis as a small boy and he is wearing a cowboy outfit and six shooters. Boys wanted to be Roy Rogers and girls, Dale Evens. But as a serious cowboy I would say in the last 20 years. Even before I started really trick roping I was riding my Arabian horse and roping off him, the rest came naturally."
DID YOU HAVE ANY INTERMEIDATE GOAL, OR WAS GETTING A JOB WITH CIRQUE DU SOLEIL THE ONLY GOAL THAT MATTERED TO YOU?
"I am one of those lucky folks that always knew what they wanted to do, perform. I was born knowing this, not sure if that is a blessing or a curse. The road I have traveled to get here; at Cirque du Soleil has been nothing short of Survivor to the 10th power. This is the best business and the worst business to be in. But it is what I do. My pilot has been: Learn every skill you can and when the jobs come up you have better odds at getting the job. I have spent the last 27 years as a: Magician, Balloon artist, Clown, Actor, Singer, dancer, Roller skater, gun spinner, trick roper, the list goes on. I remember one time my agent in the SF bay area called me and she said they need a magician for a national commercial. It was a Jack In the Box commercial and they wanted someone to make an egg roll disappear. So I went into the audition and there were 500 people there. They called us all in and said Ok, how many of you have ever done magic . . . ? 5 of us stepped forward and the other 495 were told to have a good day. See where I am going with this? Odds are that you have got to make your odds better in this business.
In my later years my goals changed. When I was younger I wanted to be famous and now with all I know, I want to be famous because I am the best at what I do and to work with the best. That is where Cirque du Soleil comes in.
In the past 10 years I really have tried to recreate the life of Will Rogers, his philosophy and what he did. From being a simple man of the people, to a cowboy to meeting people and writing his humor column. This I am well on my way to achieving. But the one thing that has slipped past me in this quest was to have the same sort of spectacular like he had to perform in "The Ziegfeld Follies." Until now, NO one has reached the heights of wow like Cirque du Soleil has, it is the modern day Ziegfeld follies and without a doubt I spend every day when the curtain goes up or down, pinching myself because I DID IT!"
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO GET YOUR DREAM JOB WITH CIRQUE DU SOLEIL? WHAT DID THE PROCESS ENTAIL?
"If you want start to finish I would say 27 years and what did it take . . . A lot of blood, A LOT of SWEAT and I am crying right now as I write this."
But the real answer: I was asked to submit an audition tape, I did, we went back and forth, and in the beginning I was not picked. Then a year later I was asked to resubmit. I did, more questions, and then I got the word, we would like you to join us in sort of an English/French translation. I paused, asked them to repeat what they said and sure enough in both languages, they were hiring me for Viva ELVIS."
HOW MANY HOURS A DAY DO YOU REHEARSE, AND WHAT DOES THE TRAINING ENTAIL?
"Sometimes up to 12 hours a day. They are the best in the world and known for producing the best shows. That takes time and commitment, from both parties. Training: Physically I was training several hours a day, I lost to date 18 pounds and then rehearsing, which is physical. Create new tricks, and make sure you can do them over and over and over. Cirque du Soleil is the best of the best and they tell us that all the time. But they expect us to keep that level up. I have seen a few folks not make the cut because they just could not produce. It is a mental workout as well. The pressure to keep yourself going and perform your skill daily is big. But when you look out at the audience of almost 2,000 people a show, it is all worth it."
DO YOU GET NERVOUS WHEN YOU KNOW THAT FAMILY AND FRIENDS ARE IN THE AUDIENCE?
"NO! That fuels my fire. It is a nervous energy that in the years of performing has been refocused to keep me alert and sharp. Also, I like to do each show for someone that I know, sometimes living, sometimes dead. It just gives a little extra zing to the show."
WHAT HAS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF BEING INVOLVED WITH CIRQUE DU SOLEIL?
"Knowing that I was picked out by Cirque du Soleil as a top of the line at what I do. Out of hundreds of trick roping, gun spinning cowboys in the world they picked two of us. Plus, performing in Las Vegas in a theater that is as big as the Elvis Theater is a whole lot better than trying to drum up a crowd street performing."
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SEGMENT OF THE SHOW OTHER THAN THE COWBOY SEGMENT?
"I like Jailhouse, which I play the crazy guy in the strait jacket, other than that, I like Bosa Nova, Blue Suede Shoes, Love the song and Cirque du Soleil added in fireworks Yeeeehawww!"
MANY SOP CONTRIBUTORS ARE ASPIRING NOVELISTS, PLAYWRIGHTS AND JOURNALISTS. YOU HAVE ACHIEVED YOUR DREAM, WHAT WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT DO YOU HAVE FOR THEM?
"IF you have any doubts about if you like what you are doing, DON`T DO IT! Unless you understand that it is part of the whole picture. More often than not these days I hear performers say I don`t want to be here, I hate this, Why do I have to learn how does this apply to me? "IF you don`t want to be somewhere . . . LEAVE, and let the other 98 % of the performers who are looking for work have the jobs. I guess it might be the old adage: How can you know where you are going if you don`t know where you have been? Live life like the most poor and infuriate soul, from that view I bet everything is appreciated. Learn as much as you can about your craft. If you are a writer, learn how to write, unless you are a humorist J ... Learn how to promote yourself; because agents are like bankers, their INTREST in you is purely financial. If it weren`t, they would be your mother. Learn the business. Too often I see performers that think that if you have the talent they will come and take care of all the rest. This could not be more wrong. It is a little like saying that you are real good at doing trick on your bicycle. You can jump with it, pop wheelies, go backwards, and telling me you still have the training wheels on.
And finally, learn other aspects of your craft. As I told you earlier, I do a lot of different circus skills and as I was told when I was hired by Cirque du Soleil, we hired you because you are the type of performer we like, lots of skills and performance experience."
BESIDES WILL ROGERS, WHO ARE YOUR IDOLS?
"I prefer to call these people heroes. Besides an idol can be made out of plaster or wood.
Charlie Chaplin, Harry Houdini, and a group of people who helped me along the way: Mikel Pippi, Jim Jensen, and my wife, Meghan . . . who changed everything to help me archive my goal when Cirque du Soleil hired me."
ANY PLANS TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY?
"Well, I have started to compile the last 2 years of my daily and weekly telegrams and hope I can hone it down to at least 300 pages. As for writing my life story up until this point like many other artists it has been mostly struggle. Now here`s to hopes of more fun and less work, yea right. Until then I think my life story needs a little better ending. But I promise you will be one of the first to know when it gets interesting."
"It was a pleasure getting to know you better and watching your performance at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. I have seen many one man shows imitating my great-grandfather Will Rogers and I must say yours is one of the best. You certainly have a knack for his wonderful sense of humor. I wish you well with your show and hope to see you again in the near future."
Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry, California
"When you read Will Roberts, you get the full package & he has his own unique views, is dynamic, creative and always on target"
Greg Rogers, Editor http://www.faxts.com magazine
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